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Thailand Lifts Emergency Rule in Parts of Rebellion-Racked South

Thailand this week lifted emergency rule in parts of the country’s restive south, where a Muslim insurgency has claimed thousands of lives over the past two decades. Critics said the emergency measures had led to rampant human rights abuses.

The predominantly Buddhist country imposed an emergency decree over its three southernmost provinces in 2005, a year after a continuing wave of insurgent violence flared up. Ethnic Malay Muslims are in the majority in those provinces.

The decree lets security forces detain suspects without charge for up to 30 days and gives the security personnel immunity from prosecution for any actions carried out in the line of duty. It also grants the government broad powers to censor the news.

Martial law and an Internal Security Act, which also grant security forces some enhanced powers, have been imposed on southern provinces as well.

Thailand has lifted the emergency decree in 10 districts over the years. The government passed a resolution lifting the emergency decree in three more districts, one in each province, at a meeting on Monday, government spokeswoman Rudklao Intawong Suwankiri told VOA.

She said the government made the move because attacks in those areas had waned sharply over the past few years.

“The data showed that the violence has … reduced to the level where it’s safe enough to use the [Internal Security Act] instead of the emergency decree,” Rudklao said.

The decree was reimposed on one other district where she said attacks are on the rise.

More than 7,300 people have been killed and 13,600 injured in the fighting since 2004, according to Deep South Watch, an independent research group. For the past decade, though, the number of violent incidents in the provinces has dropped steadily, from 1,850 in 2012 to 158 last year.

Rudklao said that if attacks remain low, then Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsutin, who chairs an advisory panel on the emergency law, will suggest lifting the decree in several more districts next year.

“He has a quite hopeful feeling that the situation would be improved to the level that at least an additional 10 districts would be able to lift,” she said. “But all in all, we have to look at the data.”

Many locals and rights groups say the decree has done more harm than good by allowing years of abuse by police and soldiers under cover of legal immunity.

“That means that even if there is abuse during detention under this law, you could never hold anyone to account. That aligns with the consistent reports of torture and ill treatment in detention in the southern border provinces,” said Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong, a Thailand-based researcher for Amnesty International.

“There have been many allegations that they [detainees] were subjected to torture … both psychologically and physically. That has caused a lot of pain for the local population over the past 19 years,” he told VOA.

In its 2022 report on the human rights situation in Thailand, the U.S. State Department said, “Official impunity … continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces.”

Chanatip called the government’s move to lift the decree in three districts a “good start.”

“But there is much more that they have to do,” he said. “There is also the martial law, which allows for another seven days of detention. There is also the Internal Security Act, which grants the security forces a lot of power in the region. So, a more holistic approach to peace and to human rights in the region still requires much more action from the government.”

Amnesty International and others have urged Thailand to lift all three laws across the south and stick to the civilian legal code.

Not everyone agrees. Buddhists for Peace, which promotes interfaith dialogue in southern Thailand, says the emergency decree is still popular with some Buddhists in the area.

“The terrorists always attack the Thai Buddhists in southern Thailand because they think they are part of the Thai government,” said Lamai Manakarn, a coordinator for the group who lives in the south.

“The emergency law makes Thai Buddhists feel safe. If the government wants to cancel it, they should cancel it in some areas that don’t have an emergency [dangerous] situation,” she added.

For years, the government has been in sporadic and mostly fruitless negotiations with the largest of the insurgent groups, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, to end the rebellion.

Matthew Wheeler, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the latest lifting of emergency rule in a few districts likely will do little to advance the Malaysia-brokered talks.

“It might have had some symbolic impact if the decree had been lifted throughout the region, signaling a fresh approach and greater concern for the protection of human rights. But given that the emergency decree had years ago been lifted in 10 districts in the three southernmost provinces, the latest easing of the decree is not likely to make much of an impression on BRN,” he said in emailed comments.

Wheeler said the new administration has so far shown no sign of a change of tack in the government’s approach to the insurgency, and that a policy statement it delivered to the National Assembly last month outlining its priorities made only one vague reference to seeking “long-lasting security and peace” for the border provinces.

BRN unilaterally suspended the negotiations in May, just ahead of national elections, to await a new administration, and has not met with the government’s negotiating team since.

Source : VOA